In a new essay for the Financial Times, Rep. Sandy Levin (D-Mich.) describes dismal working conditions in Mexico and argues that improving the rights of Mexico's working people to join together in union is a key way to improve the North American Free Trade Agreement.
After delaying labor reform for two decades, Mexico put a constitutional amendment on fast track, allowing workers to vote for officers and to ratify contracts. This effort occurred in the prelude to the vote in the U.S. Congress on the Trans-Pacific Partnership. President Trump jettisoned TPP in the early days of his presidency, but the constitutional amendment was ratified in February.
Real reform at last in Mexico? Surely not yet. The critical "secondary" legislation to implement the amendment has yet to be enacted and could result in limited or nonexistent change, in effect pouring old wine into new bottles. It is not a positive sign that legislation to add transparency was put together largely without open public participation.
But the solution is not to throttle trade with Mexico, an approach which could damage both economies and spread globally. A far better protection for U.S. workers is to ensure better rights for Mexican workers. This would lead to wages and working conditions harmonizing upwards across North America rather than being on their current destructive downward slope. Corporations benefit from a more rapidly expanding market and trade could grow with what legendary U.S. labor leader Walter Reuther called "high velocity purchasing power."
The NAFTA experience indicates that promises only last until the ink on the agreement dries, if that long. Instead, NAFTA locked in a damaging status quo for a quarter century. This time around, NAFTA must include strong language and enforcement in the agreement, but, even more importantly, demonstrated reform in the labor area must take place before the agreement is voted on.
There are many critical issues in the renegotiation beyond labor standards. Absent these labor changes, however, we condemn workers in Michigan, Ohio, California and elsewhere to more dislocation and lower wages. We also ensure Mexican workers remain mired in high productivity poverty. And, we generate unpredictable political tensions on both sides of the border.
Real, functioning core labor rights lay the basis for expanding trade and reducing deficits by building a strong middle class. This is the road the U.S. followed in the aftermath of the second world war that created a broadly shared prosperity and reduced inequality. This approach helps lay the foundation for growing economies and strong democracies across North America.
Read the full essay (behind a paywall).